Ask vs tell – Your management style

Coaching Delivery Method

We probably use ask and tell all the time in our management roles, but there’s something important about this that goes beyond just being polite or not.  There are times as a manager when I really need to tell, to be directive and give individuals instruction.  Their are other times when we really need to be non directive too, to use the skill of asking the insightful question.  

Understanding when and why I make the choice between these two approaches is a management foundation that we all need to get right.  Here’s some simple guidance:

Using ‘tell’ as a manager.  

Tell is quick, it’s easy, it’s a way of getting things done, but it can be problematic if used in the wrong situations.  Tell is the correct approach in situations where your team member is unable to draw on previous experience, it’s something they currently don’t know how to do.  Can you imagine turning up at parachute school on the first day and being asked how you would like to fold your parachute!  

If I don’t know, then I need you to tell me.  

Directive input is welcomed when the recipient is unable to draw on their own knowledge or experience.  It’s not welcomed when they already have a good understanding of something.  Start telling me, when I have knowledge and ability and I will feel patronised.  

Using ‘ask’ as a manager.  

Ask is the tool you should use when you want to take someone from a basic understanding into a deeper level of insight and ability.  Ask is developmental.  If I say (tell) “no, the answer is 8” you will learn the answer and little else, except your the answers guy when I need it.  

If instead you ask “How did you get 7?” The person will learn how to work it out for themselves.  It’s a completely different experience for the recipient of that question.  It’s not patronising either, because you are merely helping me to improve whatever it is.  

So there it is, clarity when you should be ‘asking’ or ‘telling’ your team members.  Use ‘tell’ too much and I’ll just create management junkies that are addicted to asking me for the answer.  Use tell when the person has a good amount of experience, and I’ll end up with a frustrated team.  Use Ask when someone doesn’t know what to do and nothing will happen!  Getting this right is critical for the growth and motivation of your workforce.  

Make yourself super self conscious concerning which you are doing, and when you are doing it over the next week.  It can transform the performance of the team and their perception of you as the manager.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain